Some new crops fit a rotation like a glove, and others could take several years of on-farm trials to determine if they are worth growing

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. That might be the most important first step if you have plans to introduce a new crop into your rotation.

Ask the seed companies, ask extension specialists and ask other farmers who have grown the crop for their advice and experience, say farmers who participated in this month’s panel.

Depending on how it is presented, often a new or novel crop, sounds like the silver bullet needed to improve farm economics. “Grow this and you’ll make nothing but money!” But the reality is sometimes those promised markets aren’t there, and of course the other big question to be answered is “will this crop actually grow on my farm?”

Here is what four Prairie farmers described as their experience with new crops. In one case, introducing a new crop was a nice fit and not all that much different than what the producer was use to. In other cases, it is has been a three to five year learning experience, and as producers learn to grow the crop, they are still waiting for improved varieties, before making a final decision.

BARRY CHAPPELL HAMIOTA, MAN.

While canola, wheat and barley are the primary crops for Barry Chappell, he also has been testing the potential of producing grain corn, in a non-traditional corn area of southwest Manitoba.

To reduce risk, he’s kept the corn field small, but it is large enough to provide a good indicator of how well the crop will do on Chappell Farms. He figures with improved varieties being developed — varieties that do well under lower heat unit growing conditions — eventually he will be able to grow a good cash crop he can market to an ethanol processing plant in nearby Minnedosa.

“With some of the challenges facing wheat, and with corn being the largest crop in the world, there will continue to be good markets for corn if we can grow it,” says Chappell, who crops about 1,950 acres at Hamiota, about an hour northwest of Brandon.

“I have been growing a variety that has a 2050 heat unit rating — we are just on the fringe of the corn-growing area — but it is just a matter of time before we see earlier varieties that perform well at lower heat units, which will expand its production area.”

Chappell, who seeds 50 per cent of his farm to canola and the other half in wheat and barley, depending on the market, has been evaluating grain corn for the past five years. He only seeds about five acres of corn per year.

But in selecting a Roundup Ready corn variety, he can seed it next to his Roundup Ready canola making it convenient to control weeds in the same spraying operation. As an independent sales rep for Pioneer Hi-Bred seed, Chappell has been growing an early maturing, low heat unit variety — P7213R.

“Being just on the edge of the production zone, so much depends on the weather,” says Chappell. “In the past five years, I’ve probably had what I consider two good crops, but at the same time we haven’t had the warm, dry conditions during the growing season, that is a bit more normal. I know breeders are working on developing new grain corn genetics for Western Canada.”

Chappell’s strategy is to learn as much about growing grain corn during these trial years, and then be ready to include it in his crop rotation as improved varieties are developed.

“The key is to start small and learn how these new crops grow,” he says. He has relied on the agronomic advise from Pioneer and other producers to help him in growing corn.

The first year he grew a five-acre test plot, he hired someone with a corn planter to put seed in the ground. Since then Chappell has bought his own planter, which he also rents out to other producers interested in growing corn.

“You probably could use a conventional air drill, but seed spacing is critical with corn,” he says. “The seeds need to have that four-to five-inch spacing between seeds, and with a conventional air seeder you would end up with seeds bunching together.”

But buying a planter, especially for testing the crop, doesn’t have to be a huge investment, he says. With a lot of good used smaller planters around the country a person could get set up for about $5,000.

From a fertility standpoint, he says corn isn’t as different from wheat as many people think. Following a guideline of one pound of nitrogen for one bushel of corn yield, he says many farmers apply 80 to 100 pounds of nitrogen on wheat, so roughly the same or a bit more will produce a 100 bushel corn crop.

Once the corn is seeded, if using a Roundup Ready variety, for example, seeded next to a

Roundup Ready canola, spraying for in-crop weed control can be completed in one operation.

Chappell uses a conventional combine for harvesting the grain corn test plot. A combine equipped with a draper header isn’t quite as fast at harvesting as a corner header, but it does a good job.

While the quality of corn from the test plot, hasn’t always made the grade for ethanol processing, he does have the option of selling it as livestock feed.

“I don’t think you can judge the potential of a new crop from one year’s experience,” says Chappell. “I plan to grow another five to eight acres again in 2010 to get more experience with the crop, but until we get into a warmer weather cycle, or get some new, earlier varieties, the risk of growing it on a large scale, in this fringe area, is too great.”

WARREN KAEDING CHURCHBRIDGE, SASK.

Even though he had been use to growing field peas for several years, introducing a new pulse crop, like soybeans, into the crop mix came with a steep learning curve for southeast Saskatchewan farmer Warren Kaeding.

“I just assumed it would be about the same as growing peas,” says Kaeding, who operates Wagon Wheel Seed Farm at Churchbridge, Sask., which is northeast of Regina, near the Manitoba border. “I should have talked to more people who had experience with the crop before, and that might have avoided a few mistakes.”

Kaeding has been growing soybeans as a commercial crop for the past five years. He got out of the gate the first year with about 80 acres, and then backed off to about 40 or 50 acres for a few years. Although now, feeling more confident with the crop, he expects to seed more acres to soybeans in 2010.

While Kaeding, who crops about 6,500 acres producing a wide range of cereals, peas and flax as certified seed, was familiar with pulse crops, he found that soybeans have specific requirements. The crop doesn’t require specialized equipment, but for best results it requires different treatment than field peas.

For the past few years, Kaeding has been growing NSC Warren soybeans, distributed by North Star Genetics. It is a Roundup Ready variety with the lowest heat unit rating of 2350 heat units, which just works in his area. He expects newer varieties that perform well with lower heat unit requirements will be available in the future.

It was a marketing opportunity that got Kaeding involved with soybeans in the first place. He met with a contractor who was looking for farmers to produce non-GMO soybeans for a specific market at a price premium. He jumped in the first year, ran into a few production surprises, but still managed to get a crop. Since then the premium for non-GMO product has disappeared, but still seeing some opportunity with the crop, he switched to the Roundup Ready variety.

A few things he has learned about growing soybeans over the past five years: 1. It should be seeded shallower than field peas, about 1- inches deep, max; 2. Soil temperature is critical. Soil temperature should be 11C or warmer. To help germination, he applies a bit of tillage at time of seeding to blacken the soil and help it warm; 3. Roll the field after seeding, to benefit harvest; 4. He found out this past year, the crop doesn’t like any soil with a hint of salinity; and 5. For maximum nodulation and nitrogen fixation, soybeans need twice the inoculant that field peas require.

“Some things you just have to find out for yourself, but it would have been worthwhile to talk to other growers,” he says. “And you don’t want to just talk to people in areas where soybeans are best suited, but also to those producing the crop under less than ideal conditions.”

Kaeding says if the soil is too cold, germination is slowed, and the plant will grow slower with the lower seed pods dragging on the ground. It is more difficult to harvest and he also found there were yield losses. “If the soil is warm and it jumps out of the ground quickly, the lower pods are higher on the plant and it is easier to combine,” he says.

And because there is no natural nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil, the crop relies on rhyzobia contained in the inoculant to trigger nodulation and nitrogen production. Kaeding has treated the seed with both a liquid and a peat-based inoculant in the past and this year, with a new seeding system, he’ll use one seed applied inoculant and also place a granular inoculant in the seed row.

Even though it is a Roundup Ready variety, field selection, and planting soybeans on clean ground, is important. Originally he had seeded the crop into

perennial rye grass stubble, but he found there were too many perennial rye grass volunteers. And seeding soybeans on canola stubble is an option, but even two or three years after the canola crop, he can still get glyphosate tolerant canola volunteers appearing in the soybeans, which means he has to add something like a Clean Start herbicide to the tank to deal with the volunteers.

Marketing soybeans hasn’t been an issue for Kaeding. The first year he had the non-GMO contract, but in recent years he has been able to slip them into the Manitoba soybean market. If he farmed further west of Manitoba than he is, he would have to figure the freight cost of shipping soybeans, into the crop economics.

“The important thing with soybeans, for me, is not to have too high of expectations,” he says. “You can’t expect the same yields, when you’re on the fringe, that you might if you farmed in southern Manitoba. Even though they don’t fix a lot of nitrogen in the soil, they had better economics when nitrogen was 60 cents a pound then when it is 28 cents a pound. For me, it is a crop I have to watch and be asking is there something else I could grow on this land, which might be more profitable.”

BRIAN LENZ BENTLEY, ALTA.

Brian Lenz says faba beans fit nicely into his west central Alberta farming operation for a couple reasons. He doesn’t find a lot of difference in producing faba beans, compared to field peas, and secondly they make an excellent protein source in hog rations.

Lenz runs a farrow to finish hog operation at Bentley, west of Red Deer and also crops 750 acres, mostly grains and pulses, to be used in hog rations.

He had grown field peas for several years, but switched to faba beans two years ago.

“I was looking for a protein source to replace soybean meal in the ration,” says Lenz. “Soybean meal is expensive and faba beans are high in protein.”

The high protein faba beans (about 30 per cent) appear to be having a got fit in hog rations. He’s already using them in sow and grower/finisher rations and he’s just started using some faba beans in the starter ration (for 40 to 90 pound pigs). “So far it doesn’t appear they are having any adverse affect on production,” he says.

Lenz grows Snowbird ZT faba beans. The ZT stands for zero tannin. Tannins are a compound in faba beans, which gives the bean a bitter or astringent taste. Newer varieties which are tannin free make excellent livestock feed.

Working with Stamp Seeds at Lomond, Alta., he grew about 80 acres of faba beans in 2008 and 115 acres in 2009. “Greg Stamp has been very helpful in providing agronomic advice on growing faba beans,” says Lenz. “I treat them much the same way as I did field peas. I treat them with an inoculant and try to seed them in early May. The seed is a bit bigger than peas, so I have to travel a bit slower with the air seeder, but otherwise they aren’t much different.”

And it appears to be a good yielding crop as well. The first year, the crop suffered about 48 per cent loss due to hail and it still yielded 52 bushels per acre, and in 2009, the crop yielded about 90-bushels-per-acre.

Lenz plans to seed 90 to 100 acres of faba beans in 2010.

ALEX RUSSELL LETHBRIDGE, ALTA.

A winter pulse crop, like winter lentils, will fit well in Alex Russell’s rotation for both agronomic and marketing reasons, says the southern Alberta producer.

Russell, who crops about 1,400 acres of grain and oilseed crops on dryland and under irrigation, is familiar with growing spring seeded lentils, on his Lethbridgearea farm, but adding winter lentils to the crop mix, will provide a bit more flexibility.

With the 2009-10 winter being the third year he has grown winter lentils, Russell says it appears the crop survives the winter okay, but it is the early spring frost which takes its toll. In the fall of 2007 he seeded one acre, limited mostly to seed availability, and this past fall he seeded 20 acres.

“Last year (early 2009) it was the spring frost, even as late as a June frost, which set the crop back,” says Russell. “The variety we are using has good winter hardiness, but hopefully if they can develop new varieties with improved winter hardiness it will be able to withstand those spring frosts better.”

One technique Russell used to hopefully improve crop survival in 2010, was to seed it about a month later last fall. In previous years he had seeded it in October, however, last fall he seeded it in November. The crop germinated and was just breaking ground heading into winter. He’s hoping that being a bit delayed, will provide some protection from early season frosts come April and May.

“Going into winter in 2008 the crop was about three inches tall,” he says. “This year it is just breaking the ground. I’m hoping with it being closer to the ground it won’t be as vulnerable to frost.”

Winter lentils have a 20 to 30 per cent yield advantage, but Russell figures it is the crop timing that may produce the greatest economic abenefit. The higher yield is important, but if he can get the crop harvested three weeks to a month earlier, he can market it at old crop prices, which are higher than new crop prices. Red lentils, for example, right now are priced at 37 cents per pound, so being able to sell at that price next August could be a huge advantage regardless of what the yield increase might be.

“We are still looking at this crop on a trial basis,” he says. “This isn’t the best variety to be growing and hopefully better ones will come along. It is extra work to test a new crop, but you need to spend some time to see how the crop grows and to figure how it fits into your marketing program.”

Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at

perennial rye grass stubble, but he found there were too many perennial rye grass volunteers. And seeding soybeans on canola stubble is an option, but even two or three years after the canola crop, he can still get glyphosate tolerant canola volunteers appearing in the soybeans, which means he has to add something like a Clean Start herbicide to the tank to deal with the volunteers.

Marketing soybeans hasn’t been an issue for Kaeding. The first year he had the non-GMO contract, but in recent years he has been able to slip them into the Manitoba soybean market. If he farmed further west of Manitoba than he is, he would have to figure the freight cost of shipping soybeans, into the crop economics.

“The important thing with soybeans, for me, is not to have too high of expectations,” he says. “You can’t expect the same yields, when you’re on the fringe, that you might if you farmed in southern Manitoba. Even though they don’t fix a lot of nitrogen in the soil, they had better economics when nitrogen was 60 cents a pound then when it is 28 cents a pound. For me, it is a crop I have to watch and be asking is there something else I could grow on this land, which might be more profitable.”

BRIAN LENZ BENTLEY, ALTA.

Brian Lenz says faba beans fit nicely into his west central Alberta farming operation for a couple reasons. He doesn’t find a lot of difference in producing faba beans, compared to field peas, and secondly they make an excellent protein source in hog rations.

Lenz runs a farrow to finish hog operation at Bentley, west of Red Deer and also crops 750 acres, mostly grains and pulses, to be used in hog rations.

He had grown field peas for several years, but switched to faba beans two years ago.

“I was looking for a protein source to replace soybean meal in the ration,” says Lenz. “Soybean meal is expensive and faba beans are high in protein.”

The high protein faba beans (about 30 per cent) appear to be having a got fit in hog rations. He’s already using them in sow and grower/finisher rations and he’s just started using some faba beans in the starter ration (for 40 to 90 pound pigs). “So far it doesn’t appear they are having any adverse affect on production,” he says.

Lenz grows Snowbird ZT faba beans. The ZT stands for zero tannin. Tannins are a compound in faba beans, which gives the bean a bitter or astringent taste. Newer varieties which are tannin free make excellent livestock feed.

Working with Stamp Seeds at Lomond, Alta., he grew about 80 acres of faba beans in 2008 and 115 acres in 2009. “Greg Stamp has been very helpful in providing agronomic advice on growing faba beans,” says Lenz. “I treat them much the same way as I did field peas. I treat them with an inoculant and try to seed them in early May. The seed is a bit bigger than peas, so I have to travel a bit slower with the air seeder, but otherwise they aren’t much different.”

And it appears to be a good yielding crop as well. The first year, the crop suffered about 48 per cent loss due to hail and it still yielded 52 bushels per acre, and in 2009, the crop yielded about 90-bushels-per-acre.

Lenz plans to seed 90 to 100 acres of faba beans in 2010.

ALEX RUSSELL LETHBRIDGE, ALTA.

A winter pulse crop, like winter lentils, will fit well in Alex Russell’s rotation for both agronomic and marketing reasons, says the southern Alberta producer.

Russell, who crops about 1,400 acres of grain and oilseed crops on dryland and under irrigation, is familiar with growing spring seeded lentils, on his Lethbridgearea farm, but adding winter lentils to the crop mix, will provide a bit more flexibility.

With the 2009-10 winter being the third year he has grown winter lentils, Russell says it appears the crop survives the winter okay, but it is the early spring frost which takes its toll. In the fall of 2007 he seeded one acre, limited mostly to seed availability, and this past fall he seeded 20 acres.

“Last year (early 2009) it was the spring frost, even as late as a June frost, which set the crop back,” says Russell. “The variety we are using has good winter hardiness, but hopefully if they can develop new varieties with improved winter hardiness it will be able to withstand those spring frosts better.”

One technique Russell used to hopefully improve crop survival in 2010, was to seed it about a month later last fall. In previous years he had seeded it in October, however, last fall he seeded it in November. The crop germinated and was just breaking ground heading into winter. He’s hoping that being a bit delayed, will provide some protection from early season frosts come April and May.

“Going into winter in 2008 the crop was about three inches tall,” he says. “This year it is just breaking the ground. I’m hoping with it being closer to the ground it won’t be as vulnerable to frost.”

Winter lentils have a 20 to 30 per cent yield advantage, but Russell figures it is the crop timing that may produce the greatest economic abenefit. The higher yield is important, but if he can get the crop harvested three weeks to a month earlier, he can market it at old crop prices, which are higher than new crop prices. Red lentils, for example, right now are priced at 37 cents per pound, so being able to sell at that price next August could be a huge advantage regardless of what the yield increase might be.

“We are still looking at this crop on a trial basis,” he says. “This isn’t the best variety to be growing and hopefully better ones will come along. It is extra work to test a new crop, but you need to spend some time to see how the crop grows and to figure how it fits into your marketing program.”

Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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